HC Deb 18 June 1975 vol 893 cc1515-31
Miss Joan Lestor

I beg to move Amendment No. 23, in page 10, line 24, leave out from 'exists' to end of line 36.

Clause 12 lays down as a general principle that it is unlawful for trade unions, employers' organisations or similar bodies to discriminate on grounds of sex in admission to membership or in their treatment of members.

An amendment was carried in Committee which would exempt from this provision those trade unions which already exist on a single-sex basis, and are the counterpart, or substantially the counterpart, of a similar body limited to members of the other sex. Although the exception was worded in such general terms, there are, as far as we know, only six bodies to which it would apply, namely, those representing headmasters, headmistresses, assistant masters and assistant mistresses, and, to some extent, the National Association of Schoolmasters and the Union of Women Teachers. The Government cannot accept that there is a case for treating these bodies differently from every other trade union and professional association in the country, and we are, therefore, asking the House to reject the Committee's amendment to Clause 12.

It was argued in Committee that only by organising themselves in separate unions could women teachers ensure representation of their sex within their union structure or on negotiating bodies in education. I find this very difficult to accept.

Women are not a minority in the teaching profession: they constitute a clear majority of all teachers. Moreover, they are, by the nature of their profession, an exceptionally intelligent and articulate group of women. If women in such a position cannot ensure that their voice is heard except by isolating themselves and refusing to compete directly with men, the case for allowing women in a wide range of other occupations to form separate unions must be far stronger, in particular in those occupations where women as yet form only a small minority. Yet the clause at present gives the exception only to those who, by their own argument, are in least need of it.

If the Government were to accept, therefore, that it is necessary to allow unions to function on a single-sex basis, with parallel organisations for men and women, it would be only logical for us to introduce a much wider exception than that in the clause at the moment. Any such exception, however, would be far more likely to rebound to the disadvantage of women than to work in their favour. If women are allowed to exclude men, we can hardly forbid men to exclude women from their trade organisations, and in these cases the position of women would suffer gravely in consequence.

Another argument has been put forward in support of separate teaching unions. It is the argument that women teachers can work for equality of the sexes as a separate group and that only so can they give girls evidence that women can achieve influence and responsibility.

I cannot accept that. There is nothing in the Bill which will prevent women working for equality. Other trade unions have been active in the fight for equality, and so have women within those trade unions, as have teachers and others.

We are not asking the unions to go out of existence as they are. We are simply asking that those unions be subject to the same law as will apply to every other union in the country. Because of the history of unions in the teaching profession, unless the teaching unions themselves take a deliberate decision to lose their separate identities, I should expect the Association of Assistant Mistresses to continue with a largely female membership and the Association of Assistant Masters to remain predominantly male. Whether that is good or bad in either case, that is what I should expect. But neither organisation, because of that, has the right to refuse a member of the opposite sex membership on sex grounds.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I am amused by the idea of men joining the Association of Assistant Mistresses. It would seem quite impossible that that state of affairs could exist. If it is impossible, surely the hon. Lady must realise that what she is saying does not add up. The unions cannot remain as they are.

Miss Lestor

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman is right. I am saying that at the moment there are two unions, one of which is the mistresses' union and the oilier the masters' union. I am saying that, although it would be surprising if a flood of men wished to join the Association of Assistant Mistresses, if a man said that he wished to join for reasons of his own—possibly to fight for women's equality—he could not be excluded on the ground of sex. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that it would no longer be a union of school mistresses. It would be a union of school teachers, most of whom would be mistresses.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

Would not the name have to be changed? It could not call itself a union of school mistresses any longer, could it? Surely the name would have to be changed, otherwise it would be discriminatory.

Miss Lestor

That is right. In the light of these applications occurring, the union then would obviously constitute a different membership.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

Is not the whole argument ridiculous? The two organisations work together in the Joint Four in all that they do.

Miss Lestor

It is foolish to argue about a name. It is rather like a new lady Member coming to this House and finding doors marked "Members only", only to discover that the signs mean male Members only. It may be that, after the passage of this Bill, we shall have less of the confusion to which new female Members of Parliament are subjected from time to time.

On a more serious note, it also seems to me that the advantage of ensuring that girls see that women are active at high levels in their trade unions and on related negotiating bodies and other committees must be largely offset by the knowledge that such women achieved their positions not through equal competition with men but through the protection of a preferential system. I am myself very much opposed to this. It seems to me that it would be much more valuable if the very able representatives of the Association of Assistant Mistresses and its sister unions were known to have reached their positions, as I am sure they are eminently capable of doing, without the shelter and protection of a system which ensures that it is not their ability which got them where they were but that their sex was at least one of the most important factors in their selection.

We cannot have this both ways. If we are arguing for a Sex Equality Bill and sex equality we cannot at the same time say that we want special protection because, in effect, we are women and cannot yet, because of attitudes and so forth on all sides in this argument, get the kind of representation we deserve through our abilities. I have said that I do not foresee the application of the requirement of non-discrimination necessarily having any very spectacular effect on the composition of the teaching unions, however desirable that may be.

In fields where workers have a multiplicity of unions which they may join, their choice may depend on a number of things. They may wish to join the largest union, or that which provides a particular service, or very possibly will make their choice because they agree with the policy line taken by one particular union on one or more issues on which they feel strongly. At present the Clause 12 exception applies to a single-sex union which is "the counterpart or substantially the counterpart" of a union confined to the other sex. It will be practically impossible, however, to ensure that two unions provide exactly the same choice for potential members. If a woman supports the policy of a "male union" on some issue where it differs from that of its female counterpart she may feel justly aggrieved that her sex alone precludes her from joining the organisation she feels most truly represents her, her views and what she wants to fight for. It is an essential principle of the Bill that choice in such matters should not be restricted on the irrelevant ground of sex.

While the Government remain firmly opposed to the principle of separate, single-sex trade unions, we have given sympathetic consideration to the arguments that have been put to us about the need for some provision to ensure that until women in all walks of life achieve a situation of practical as well as formal equality, they can be assured of some representation on trade union executive committees and other representative bodies.

Therefore, I can now tell the House that we have decided to introduce in another place a provision which will allow those bodies covered by Clause 12, where it seems that one sex would not otherwise be adequately represented, to make special arrangements to ensure the representation of that sex on elected committees, be they male or female. This will allow for the "positive discrimination" for which some of my hon. Friends have asked but in a more general, more relevant, and more justifiable form than the mere exclusion of a few unions from the Bill as a whole. I hope that in view of this the House will agree to the amendment.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

We welcome the hon. Lady's new appointment and her graceful presence at our deliberations. We would like to have welcomed her for having produced new arguments on this matter but I am afraid we cannot. The Government were beaten on only three substantive points in Committee and are now trying to undo what happened in Committee on each of those three points. In other words, they are virtually trying to make the whole Committee proceedings a nullity. After what happened in Committee, after informed debate, after people had listened to the arguments, they are trying to undo that by getting a Whip vote from outside, so that those who have not heard the argument will come here and undo what we did.

9.30 p.m.

This seems to be a very sleazy way of going on, particularly as the Opposition helped the Government materially in Committee. There was a great deal of cross-voting throughout. For the Government to come back now and be dictatorial and dogmatic seems to be quite wrong. The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) moved this amendment in Committee. When we divided on it the only people who voted against it were those on the "payroll vote". There was a vote of nine to one in favour of it. There was a Labour majority against the Government.

For the Government to come back and pretend that nothing has happened in Committee and seek to undo our work is insulting, dogmatic and dictatorial. In this amendment and in Amendment No. 36 the Government have shown that they are quote prepared to have a bash at the small, weak unions. Yet they cave in when confronted by the strong unions. This, too, is a sleazy way of proceeding.

The Minister has conceded that the amendment is extremely well drafted. She agrees that it applies only to those unions to which the hon. Lady intended it to apply; namely, the educational unions. Nothing that the Minister has said—she was quite funny, unintentionally or otherwise—about the advantages of schoolmasters joining schoolmistresses' unions and vice versa does anything—

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

If the teaching profession joined one union it would be much more powerful and useful.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

That is the same dictatorial attitude that the Government are showing. It may be that a lot of teachers do not want to join the NUT. I do not see why they should be made to do so. I strongly support the schoolmistresses and the others who want to preserve their own position. The Government's attitude arises from sheer dogmatism. No one suggests that any harm whatever is done as a result of the present position. The Minister has been unable to show that any harm would be done. She merely said that it would not fit in with her general view of what women should do. The right thing to do is to look at the present situation, which is working perfectly well. We debated this in Committee and took the matter to a vote. It is quite wrong for the Government, without adducing any new argument, to seek to undo what we did in Committee.

Mr. Lane

May I draw the attention of the House to the final argument used by the Minister in which she said that it was proposed to introduce a small amendment in another place? May I impress on her that she is doing this for precisely the same reasons, in the trade union context, I was arguing on my new clause? I hope that she will reflect upon that.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I thought that the Minister adduced one argument that had some weight when she said that if the situation remained as the amendment made it, women elected to committees would have the unhappy feeling that they owed their position to their sex and not to their abilities. Then she went on to say that in another place an amendment would be introduced to make it possible in the mixed unions for women to get places on executive committees by virtue of the fact that they were women.

It seems that the argument that is to be advanced in another place for the proposed amendment is the very one to which the Minister has objected here. I cannot understand this. Can one always use the argument that there is a special device to make it easier for women to get elected and that this is in no way derogatory to them? I do not think that we should say that, for example, about the women's section of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party It reflects a situation which exists at the moment.

It is unfortunate if, in the name of equality between the sexes, we legislate in a way that assumes that public opinion and general practice have gone further than they have and as a result give women the worst of both worlds in the law and in the eye of public opinion. I hope that the Government will think again about this.

Mr. John Page

I feel that I can speak with some authority on this matter of sex discrimination because my godmother was a male chauvinist pig. She was quite properly, the secretary of the Anti-Suffragette League. That shows that sex prejudice does not run in one tide only.

In my view the Minister is letting down the teaching profession tonight, and I cannot see any reason, other than blind prejudice and a determination to stick to a secret code, why she is trying to get the amendment overturned. Why on earth should not assistant schoolmistresses and assistant masters, if they wish, have an organisation of their own? In my view it is beyond the dreams of reasonableness that the Minister has to bring the might of the payroll vote here tonight to stop a few teachers who wish to band together for a particular purpose.

The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) touched on a very important aspect of the whole subject when he said that so much of this legislation gives the ordinary woman the worst of both worlds. The hon. Lady spoke about women being active at high levels. In my view, so much of this legislation is produced by women who are active at high levels, and discriminate against the ordinary housewife and mother by making it easier for the ordinary woman to work on difficult shifts and so on.

I have received a number of letters from assistant schoolmistresses in my constituency who are opposed to this measure from an entirely non-political point of view, and believe that it is quite unreasonable. They believe that by demanding this allegiance the Government are showing prejudice, but by leaving things as they are they would show sensible flexibility.

The Minister made an interesting point when she said that an amendment will be produced in another place, providing, I suppose, that statutory men appear on largely women's unions and that statutory women appear on committees of largely male unions. I should have thought that if she believed in the equality of the sexes and proper opportunities for people to rise, she would not demand that there should be a particular pigeonhole where a pigeon of a particular sex should roost in the union head office.

In trying to reverse the amendment the Minister makes the Bill ridiculous and I wish she would stop it.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

As someone who is not a member of the payroll vote or who is not on the payroll—I think I should be but I am not—I declare an interest as a member of the National Union of Teachers.

I should like to say a few words in support of the amendment tabled by the Government. I did not say, when I intervened earlier, that all teachers should be members of one union, but I said that I took the view that the teaching profession's position had been weakened in the past by a multiplicity of trade unions and that had there been one strong union its position would have been strengthened sooner than it was. Nobody wants to bring everybody into the National Union of Teachers, and it is absurd, in a profession like teaching, to have single-sex trade unions.

A lot of play has been made about the Association of Assistant Mistresses and the Association of Assistant Masters but they come together in the Joint Four for negotiations. The men's organisation, the women's organisation, and the equivalent head teachers' organisations all sit together on the Burnham Committee and co-operate on all wage negotiations. They are called the Joint Four, and their offices are all in the same building. In theory, they may be four separate organisations, but in practice they are one, and act as one. It seems absurd that in a profession such as teaching there should be separate organisations.

I am concerned about what my hon. Friend the Minister said about the amendment the Government propose to make in another place. I did not catch what it was, but it seemed to me to be going back on the principle. If that amendment is to be made, we might as well have the clause as it stands, so I hope that it will not be made. I think that the original Bill was right, and that it would be right with the amendment before us.

I say to my women colleagues "You can't eat your cake and have it". I am all for equality. But to ask for separatism as well as equality does not make sense, and it makes less sense in teaching than anywhere else.

Mrs. Colquhoun

Does my hon. Friend accept that for generations men have eaten their cake and had it? It is about time we had positive discrimination for women. That is what this is all about.

Mr. Mitchell

I have heard the phrase "positive discrimination" used about education in another context, but never in this one.

I cannot see the advantage to women of having a separate women's teaching organisation, for example. The amendment applies particularly to the teaching profession, which is the one profession where we have had equal pay for many years. There is probably already more equality in it than in most. Why do my hon. Friends not now accept the logic of the situation and support the amendment to reverse the amendment made in Committee?

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Member for Southampton, lichen (Mr. Mitchell) typifies a certain type of trade unionist. He believes that the only thing that matters is to have the maximum bludgeoning power. That is one of the major causes of the nation's troubles. The hon. Gentleman never realised that the real issue is that both men and women are entitled to belong to a union of their choice. For example, the craftsmen are entitled to belong to a union of their choice.

As a member of the National Union of Teachers, the hon. Gentleman can see no advantage for women in having a union of their own choice. He cannot see any advantage in the existence of the National Association of Schoolmasters or independent crafts unions. He may well feel that Mr. Scanlon, Mr. Jack Jones and the others should rule this country. They are well on the way to doing it. The hon. Gentleman showed throughout his speech that he failed to understand that freedom of choice and the liberty of the subject are the first things that should prevail in this matter.

The essence of the matter is that nothing in any of the views expressed so far denies the right to have single-sex unions and single-sex schools. Here we are dealing with single-sex unions. I served on one of the Select Committees, that of this House. There was also a House of Lords Select Committee. Both Select Committees produced reports, which were virtually unanimous, setting out the criteria which should be in the Bill. At all times we approached the Bill with a wide measure of agreement between at any rate the two major parties, after a great deal of evidence had been given by Ministers in 1972 and 1973 and adopted as the background to the Bill.

I have just read all the way through the Bill, and nowhere in it do I see any recommendation or suggestion that single-sex unions should be abolished. The whole matter is merely one of stopping discrimination on the ground of sex, including discrimination to protect jobs in particular forms of advertising. The Bill is intended particularly to stop discrimination in employment, education and training. There is nothing in any of that which suggests that people may not join the body of their choice. What is quite extraordinary is that it goes further.

9.45 p.m.

The Minister pointed out that the question is one of choice on merit in employment. There is nothing here that suggests that the whole group, either of mistresses or of masters, should not, if they so desire, get together, any more than there should be employers' associations which might wish for a particular reason to be either all men or all women. I, together with others, had the great honour to address in this House the Association of Women Public Relations Consultants—and a very intelligent body they are. That association has its own reasons, some of which are well known to hon. Members, for wishing to remain as it is. Its members are very distinguished persons. They just happen to like to get together as an association of professional women who are pursuing a job which they feel, in various ways, can inure to their own benefit.

Where is the difference between that type of professional association of women or the Association of Professional Women's Clubs and, indeed, the Townswomen's Guilds? All of these are organi sations for women who have decided that they want to remain as organisations for women because they see certain advantages in doing so. We, as men, may not see those advantages, but it is up to them so to decide the matter.

There is no possible case here for this amendment. It is not surprising that some Labour Members in Standing Committee supported the Conservative Front Bench and so secured the present position. They were right to do so. The Government must remedy this matter because what is being done is unfortunate. Unfortunately, I was not a member of the Standing Committee when this measure was dealt with, but, by reacting in this way and destroying what was done in Committee, the Government are destroying the amity and the genuine co-operation which hitherto existed in the promotion of such a measure.

Why is that important, if it is important? I maintain that it is most important. The real essence of whether women will be successful and of a measure which is designed to assist co-operation for the benefit of women, can be achieved only in the right atmosphere and the right climate. It is the pattern which is used by the Government and in the public sector which will succeed in creating the right climate for women in their employment, training, education, and other areas. It would be unfortunate if, at this stage, women were to be told that the associations they want for their own benefit in the trade union movement will be denied to them, especially when a great many are already union members. They may be wrong about that view. It may be that there are no very great advantages. If they are wrong, they will reach their own conclusion, wind up their associations themselves and say that there is no longer any need for them.

I hope that my hon. Friends will divide the House on the amendment. I also hope that when it is dealt with in another place, careful thought will be given to it by the Government, not only because in the main it will be men who are opposing what women's associations clearly want to do, but because it is better to obtain the substantial agreement of the House of Commons rather than use any type of bulldozing tactics, with which we are all too familiar at the moment in relation to certain sections of the trade union movement.

Division No. 241.] AYES [9.49 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Flannery, Martin Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Anderson, Donald Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Millan, Bruce
Armstrong, Ernest Ford, Ben Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Forrester, John Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Bates, Alf Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N.) George, Bruce Newens, Stanley
Bidwell, Sydney Golding, John Noble, Mike
Blenkinsop, Arthur Gourlay, Harry O'Halloran, Michael
Boardman, H. Grant, George (Morpeth) O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian
Booth, Albert Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Ovenden, John
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hardy, Peter Owen, Dr David
Bray, Dr Jeremy Harper, Joseph Park, George
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Prescott, John
Campbell, Ian Hatton, Frank Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Cant, R. B. Horam, John Radice, Giles
Clemitson, Ivor Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Roderick, Caerwyn
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cohen, Stanley Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rooker, J. W.
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Roper, John
Conlan, Bernard Hughes, Roy (Newport) Selby, Harry
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Skinner, Dennis
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Small, William
Crawshaw, Richard John, Brynmor Spriggs, Leslie
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Stoddart, David
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Barry (East Flint) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Davidson, Arthur Jones, Dan (Burnley) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lamborn, Harry Tlerney, Sydney
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lamond, James Tinn, James
Dempsey, James Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Tuck, Raphael
Dolg, Peter Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Dormand, J. D. Lipton, Marcus Ward, Michael
Duffy, A. E. P. Mabon, Dr J. Dickson White, Frank R. (Bury)
Dunn, James A. McCartney, Hugh White, James (Pollock)
Edge, Geoff McElhone, Frank Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Mackenzie, Gregor Woodall, Alec
English, Michael McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Woof, Robert
Ennals, David Madden, Max Wrigglesworth, Ian
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Magee, Bryan Young, David (Bolton E)
Evans, John (Newton) Marks, Kenneth TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Marquand, David Mr. James Hamilton and
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Mr. John ob/
Alison, Michael Eyre, Reginald Le Marchant, Spencer
Arnold, Tom Fairgrieve, Russell Luce, Richard
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Fisher, Sir Nigel McCusker, H.
Bain, Mrs Margaret Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Macfarlane, Neil
Bell, Ronald Fookes, Miss Janet McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Biggs-Davison, John Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Mather, Carol
Blaker, Peter Freud, Clement Mawby, Ray
Brittan, Leon Fry, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Brotherton, Michael Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Mayhew, Patrick
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Miscampbell, Norman
Bulmer, Esmond Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Moate, Roger
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Gray, Hamish Molyneaux, James
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Grist, Ian Montgomery, Fergus
Cockcrott, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Moore, John (Croydon C)
Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Hawkins, Paul Morgan, Geraint
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Henderson, Douglas Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Cope, John Hooson, Emlyn Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Cordle, John H. Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Mudd, David
Costain, A. P. Hunt, John Neubert, Michael
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Hutchison, Michael Clark Page, John (Harrow West)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jessel, Toby Paisley, Rev Ian
Drayson, Burnaby Jopling, Michael Parkinson, Cecil
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Kilfedder, James Penhaligon, David
Emery, Peter Lane, David Percival, Ian
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Lawrence, Ivan Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Lawson, Nigel Prior, Rt Hon James

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 129, Noes 112.

Rathbone, Tim Stradling Thomas, J. Wakeham, John
Rees-Davies, W. R. Taylor, R. (Croydon NW) Warren, Kenneth
Richardson, Miss Jo Tebbit, Norman Watt, Hamish
Rifkind, Malcolm Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S) Weatherill, Bernard
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Thompson, George Welsh, Andrew
Shersby, Michael Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Skeet, T. H. H. Townsend, Cyril D.
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Tugendhat, Christopher TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Stanbrook, Ivor Vaughan, Dr Gerard Mr. Adam Butler and
Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) Viggers, Peter Mr. Michael Robert
Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Order, That the sex Discrimination Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Coleman.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

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